Detroit, MI - In professional sports, players get traded all the time. It's part of the business. Sports is a business. Former Detroit Tiger J.D. Martinez knows this and his life has just changed in an instant. He's on his way to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Martinez was sad and emotional as the press interviewed him shortly after the trade. "I grew up here. Detroit is home to me and the I am going to miss the fans the most", says Martinez.
The news of the trade made into the dugout of my son's little league baseball game on Tuesday night. The players, aged 11 to 13, all sad to hear the news.
"Who did he get traded for?" asks Randy, a 7th-grade outfielder who has developed into a fine hitter this season. Coach Cliff looks up information on his mobile phone and says, "three prospects I've never heard of."
For Randy and his teammates who are fans of the Detroit Tigers, the thought of J.D. Martinez leaving the team is really sad news. It's personal.
J.D.is a ball player, just like them. He plays for our team. He hits home runs for us. Now he's gone and it is sad.
If you're a young boy or girl who plays baseball, you really identify with the local pro team. Players are referred to by their nick names: JD. Miggy. VMart. Every-Day Ian. Iggy. JV.
As a little leaguer, you might emulate their playing style. Pitch like JV. Swing like Miggy. Field like Iggy.
My son's name is Max. When Max Scherzer was a Tiger, that was his player. Same name. It helped that during Scherzer's Cy Young season in Detroit, my Max was tossed a ball that was just used to strike out a player in what would be the final out of the 8th inning, part of Scherzer's 18th win of the season. Former Tiger Catcher Gerald Laird carried the ball to the dug out, looked up and then threw it into the stands, right to my son. The moment forever sealed my Max to that Max. He was 9 at the time. 4 years later, the ball sits on his desk in his bedroom. He is still a fan of Scherzer and follows his progress as a player with the Washington Nationals.
The players on the little league team will remain fans of JD. He will always be a Tiger to them.
Baseball is still America's Pastime. For fans of the game, following their team is personal. We get to know the players. 162 games in the summer can lead to a daily routine for hardcore fans. Follow the team and you know all the back stories, player tendencies and the intricate game within the game. Baseball is still the best sport to listen to on the radio. The story telling is unparalleled.
The connections to pro players are made greater for young fans who play the game or for fans who played baseball growing up. We know the glory of connecting on a base hit to drive in a run. The agony of striking out. The satisfaction of making a great catch. The disappointment of making an error. The comradery of teammates.
Like so many sports, baseball offers life lessons. How to respond to a bad call. How to focus on the next play after making a bad error. How to win with grace. How to lose with dignity.
And humility. The game is greater than any individual. My son is a catcher primarily. He plays this position in part because of the class act by Gerald Laird and the simple toss of a baseball. He's influenced by his team's manager, a former catcher, whom Max admires and respects. He catches because his best friend Collin pitches and the connection is real. He plays it because when he's on, he can gun down runners who dare to steal.
On Sunday, Max hit his first home run over the fence, a moment made sweeter because it happened during an all-star game. On Tuesday, while behind the dish in a tight game, in the last inning, Max dropped a third strike, which ultimately led to a base runner scoring the tying run. He went from feeling like a superstar to a goat in 48 hours.
On the other side of the coin, a speedster named Ryan got picked off on the base paths to make the final out of the all star game on Sunday. He felt awful. Last night, after his team gave up 12 runs in three innings, Ryan came in to pitch four scoreless, mowing one batter down after the other with blazing fast balls and a wicked curve. How fortunes can change so quickly. That's baseball. That's life.
The truth is it takes a team win or lose a game. Max and Ryan contribute to both wins and losses and do it every time they play.
And as in life and sports, it's how we respond to situations that matter the most. We don't blame the umpire for a weird strike zone, we overcome it or adjust to his calls. We don't dwell on the error we just made, we focus on making the next play. We don't win games on the glory of a great performance of the past, we play the game and welcome the opportunity to find glory again.
J.D. Martinez is no longer on the Detroit Tigers roster. That's baseball. That's life. There's heartache when someone in your life leaves. Whether we see them on TV, watch them from a seat at the ball park, or play the game with them, a teammate is a part of our lives. J.D. was our teammate.
For baseball players, the trick is to keep playing the game. That's what J.D. will do. That's what the Tigers will do. That's what the Royal Oak Little League teams will do.
For fans, the trick is to keep rooting for the home team. That's what we'll do. And sometimes we'll keep rooting for our former players because once a Tiger, always a Tiger. That's baseball.
Dennis Kraniak is the Director of Multiplatform Content for the Fox Television Station Group and a part time baseball coach.